Altoona native Dave Armstrong moved to the Baltimore area 14 years ago and has gotten a first-hand look at how intense the Steelers-Ravens rivalry is.
''It's always one of the bigger games of the season,'' he said. ''There's a different feeling at the games. The fans are more on edge.''
The intensity will hit a high point this Sunday when the two teams square off in the AFC Championship Game - although the game will be played at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
Armstrong has been a season ticket holder for the Ravens since the team moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996. He was a Dallas Cowboys fan growing up but eventually switched allegiances after he began attending Ravens games on a regular basis.
''Being a season ticket holder, you get to know the team and see the players,'' said Armstrong, a 1986 Altoona Area High School graduate. ''You become a fan, and then it just keeps growing on you.''
Armstrong has enjoyed the 2008 season because the Ravens weren't supposed to be one of the better teams in the league. With a rookie quarterback and rookie coach, the Ravens have exceeded mostly everyone's expectations, including Ravens fans.
''At the first tailgate this year, we were talking and most expected four or five wins this season,'' he said. ''It's been a big surprise for us. The past few years our offense has struggled so much that we really only got to cheer when the defense was on the field. But now we have Joe Flacco, and he's helped pump energy into the team and the fans.''
The only negative from the season is two close losses to the Steelers during the regular season. Armstrong said the Steelers' comeback win in Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 ''really hurt,'' and although he witnessed the 13-9 loss to the Steelers on Dec. 14, he said he agreed with the officials' call on Santonio Holmes' winning touchdown.
Steelers fans are known to travel well to opposing stadiums, and Armstrong said it's no different at M&T Bank Stadium.
''We have Steelers fans here who buy Ravens season tickets and only go to one game a year and sell the rest of the tickets,'' he said. ''There are a lot of Steelers fans in this area. Just in my area, there are three Steelers bars in a 20-mile radius.''
And what do Ravens fans think of Steelers fans at their stadium?
''Let's just say Ravens fans are very dedicated fans,'' he said. ''As you would expect, they don't care for Steelers fans too much.''
Ravens fans also don't care for Steelers receiver Hines Ward. In a recent Baltimore Sun poll, Ward was easily voted the top hated Steeler.
''I believe Ward is disliked for two reasons,'' Armstrong said. ''He's known for cheap shots, whether or not he does it against us, and he's constantly smiling. That rubs opposing fans the wrong way.''
Armstrong said he is a little nervous for Sunday's game because the Steelers are more rested and not as banged up as the Ravens. He said he'll probably stay at home to watch the game rather than meeting up with his tailgate crew.
''As the year has gone by, we Ravens fans have been humbled and amazed and grateful for the season we've had,'' he said. ''We're happy we have a good team.''
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or email@example.com.